Yemen

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Joyce Msuya, Remarks to the UN Security Council on Yemen, 11 July 2022

Attachments

Thank you, Madam President.

Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe is about to get much worse.

The truce represents a landmark step forward. And we hope a solution can be found quickly to re-open roads around Taiz, as the Special Envoy has just outlined.

But the truce alone will not be enough to stop what we fear is coming.

Humanitarian needs across the country – including risk of famine in some areas – could rise sharply in the coming weeks and months.

The international community must act quickly and decisively to stop this.

In our briefing a few weeks ago, we warned about rising needs due to economic problems, a worsening environment for aid workers and a collapse in humanitarian funding.

Let us review where these issues stand.

First, the economy and rising needs. Last month, we called for action to protect Yemen’s economy from domestic challenges and from the impact of the war in Ukraine. This remains urgent.

The exchange rate, which is a key factor in how much food people can afford to eat, is still collapsing. It’s now trading at about 1,120 rial to the dollar in Aden.

Most of the currency’s gains since the truce have now been wiped out. That means many more families are going hungry again.

The Ukraine war is also threatening the supply chains that bring in Yemen’s food – nearly 90 per cent of which must be imported. Last year, just under half of all wheat came from Russia and Ukraine.

When those supplies were cut off in February, Yemeni importers moved quickly to find other sources. But rising global prices, diminished access to capital and other challenges are making it much harder for importers to keep those supply chains working.

Given the acute emergency, quick action is needed to address these challenges.

In April, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced a $3 billion economic support package for Yemen. We are encouraged by recent discussions between these donors and Yemen on the way forward for this package. Once disbursed, it has potential to stabilize the economic freefall that is fuelling a rise in hunger and other needs. This is urgently needed.

We are also encouraged by recent positive exchanges between the governments of Yemen and India on facilitating wheat exports from India. Commercial wheat imports from India have emerged as a key supply line for Yemen in the wake of the Ukraine war.

Beyond these efforts, we also reiterate our call to strengthen Yemen’s economy more broadly, including through the UN economic framework. Addressing the economic drivers of Yemen’s crisis could quickly and dramatically decrease humanitarian needs across sectors.

My second point, Madam President, is that aid work is becoming more difficult and more dangerous, which we also warned about last month. Unfortunately, providing life-saving assistance remains challenging.

Intimidation and incitement against aid agencies have continued across Yemen. This is being fuelled by misinformation amplified through social media, messaging apps and in some public forums.

In Houthi-held areas, staff movements have also become more difficult in recent weeks due to bureaucratic impediments for Yemeni aid workers travelling abroad for professional reasons. Houthi authorities are also increasingly enforcing restrictions that curb women’s full participation in humanitarian action – both as aid workers and as aid recipients.

And, eight months after repeatedly promising their quick release, security officials in Sana’a continue to detain two United Nations staff members – a violation of UN privileges and immunities.

Meanwhile, the insecurity we warned about in Government-held areas has also persisted. Since our last briefing, there have been five more carjackings of aid agency vehicles – or more than one every week. That brings the total to 18 carjackings since the beginning of the year.

There has also been no progress in efforts to free the five UN staff who were kidnapped five months ago in Abyan. We call for the immediate release of all kidnapped aid workers in Yemen.

We are also working with all stakeholders to address these issues, and we especially want to recognize the good engagement we’ve had with the Government on security concerns. We also welcome support from Member States, including through direct engagement with relevant parties where feasible.

But the biggest problem we have right now, Madam President, is funding – which is my third point. The Yemen response plan has so far received just over $1.1 billion – or 27 per cent of what it needs. This is the sharpest year-on-year decrease of any UN-coordinated plan in the world.

We know budgets are tight, and we deeply appreciate everyone’s contributions. But we also have a responsibility to say clearly: aid agencies are dangerously under-resourced for what we fear is coming.

Hunger is worse than ever, and yet the World Food Programme was forced to cut rations for millions of people several weeks ago due to funding gaps. That was the second major food cut in just six months.

Across all sectors, similar cuts are sadly costing lives. Raisa, a 32-year-old pregnant woman from Amran, sought care at a health centre supported by UNFPA when she went into labour in May. But UNFPA has had to slash humanitarian operations by 25 per cent this year. And so, when Raisa arrived at the clinic, she found the doors locked. She died before she could reach a working hospital.

Raisa is just one human example of the vast hardships these cuts are creating. We urge donors to increase support for the humanitarian response plan as much and as quickly as possible.

Beyond the response plan, funds for other urgent priorities are also lacking. The UN plan to resolve the threat from the SAFER oil tanker, for example, is still struggling to fill an immediate $20 million shortfall. Given the imminent danger from the SAFER, these fundraising challenges have come as a surprise.

The immediate $20 million gap is needed to secure the oil now – a key step in a larger plan to replace the ageing tanker. The cost of the full plan – about $144 million – should be weighed against the billions it could cost when the SAFER eventually leaks or explodes.

The UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism, created in 2016 to facilitate commercial imports to Yemen, is also running out of money. As of now, it will shut down in September, casting even more uncertainty onto already battered supply chains for food, fuel and other essential goods. It needs $3.5 million to cover operations from September until the end of the year.

This Mechanism is a key partner in the Security Council’s commitment to facilitating commercial imports to Yemen. It has also been essential to the successful resumption of fuel imports through Hudaydah under the current truce.

Madam President, discussions are under way on many of the concerns I’ve just outlined. Several weeks ago, senior donor and agency officials met in Brussels to take stock of the challenges facing the Yemen response.

Participants called for better access, more de-mining, better programme quality, closer monitoring of famine risk, more development support, and stronger advocacy, among other key objectives.

We could not agree more. We also hope the resources – political and financial – will be available to deliver what we all agree is urgently needed.

Aid agencies have also just completed an independent evaluation of the humanitarian response in Yemen from 2015 to 2021. The evaluation confirms the response helped to save lives and prevent the total collapse of basic services.

But it also identifies serious shortcomings – including programme quality, data problems and more. We are already working to address many of these issues and are eager to collaborate with all our partners – Yemeni and international – in doing so. This will be a major focus over the coming months.

Finally, Madam President, I wish to end on a hopeful note.

The truce offers a rare opportunity to end the crisis in Yemen for good.

Efforts to address – and ultimately to reduce – humanitarian needs should be part and parcel of seizing this opportunity.

We should have been there for Raisa. Let’s not fail anyone again.

Thank you.

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